Grandprix times

Bob Bell: Fourth required to prove worth of Renault's long-term F1 plan

2018-03-13 18:03:49

Renault Chief Technical Officer Bob Bell says it must “comfortably maintain” fourth position if it is to convince the manufacturer’s board to commit to its long-term title ambitions.

Renault returned to Formula 1 as a fully-fledged manufacturer team prior to 2016 and outlined its ambition to emerge as a title force in 2020.

Renault improved from ninth to sixth in the standings last year, and regularly possessed the fourth-quickest car, as it strives to make another step forward this season.

In order to realise its long-term plan, Bell says Renault must ensure it convinces its bosses that recent investment has been justified, and that the next step is deserved.

“Our team is being managed for the very top in a very sensible way,” said Bell.

“I suppose one way to look at it is to say we were sixth in the championship last year, we need to get ourselves into a position where we can comfortably maintain fourth place in the championship.

“If you look at a team like Force India, they’ve been able to achieve that, so we ought to be able to do that same job with roughly similar resources. That’s clear.

“I think until we can do that and demonstrate to Renault in particular that we’re capable of achieving that then they are not going to start writing cheques for a lot more people and resources.

“We have to prove ourselves at every step of the way.

“Once we’ve done that, then we can start having a discussion about what’s it going to take to move into the top three and take on Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull, because they are another league again in terms of resources.

“But we are prepared for that, Renault is prepared for that and so we will expand to a point where we believe is sensible to be able to consistently fight just outside the top three and be there.”

Read more

Sebastian Vettel moves to play down rivals' long-run F1 test pace

2018-03-13 17:25:28

Sebastian Vettel has raised doubts over the long-run pace that rivals Mercedes and Red Bull were able to display during Formula 1 pre-season testing.

Formula 1 teams gathered at Spanish Grand Prix venue Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya for eight days of running, with race simulations prioritised towards the end of the gathering.

Mercedes captured the attention with a strong race simulation, leading to suggestions it is ahead of the pack, including Ferrari – its main 2017 rival, with Red Bull having made gains.

However, Mercedes conducted its race simulation on Pirelli’s Medium tyres, with regulations stipulating that two dry-weather compounds must be used in a Grand Prix.

It is that element of Mercedes – and Red Bull’s – testing programme which Vettel sought to analyse.

“Our competitors – Mercedes and Red Bull – used one type of tyre for their race distance simulations, which is something you can’t do in a Grand Prix,” he said.

“This has an impact on the strategies and ultimately on the result.

“I think we’re starting from a good base with our SF71-H car.

“Now we’ll have to work on development to further explore and improve its potential. I have a lot of confidence in our team, I know how skilled and committed the guys in Maranello are.”

Vettel opened last year’s championship atop the podium in Australia after beating Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton in a straight fight, and is hopeful of competing at the front again next weekend.

“I can’t wait to be in Australia, because once we get on track there, we will all be driving and racing under the same conditions,” he said.

“And, as I said before, I have confidence in our car.”

Read more

Feature: Pierre ready to step on the gas

2018-03-13 13:35:46

When Pierre Gasly emerged as a GP2 title contender in 2016 many expected him to slot in at Toro Rosso for 2017, but Red Bull made him wait, sent him to Japan, before finally giving him his Formula 1 chance late last year. Now he’s preparing for his first full season in the championship, and Motorsport Week caught up with the Frenchman to discuss his tumultuous journey so far.

It is a journey that began in his native Normandy at the turn of the millennium. The energetic six-year-old, the youngest member of a family immersed in motorsport, was taken to the kart circuit at Anneville-Ambourville in the Seine-lined forests a half-hour drive away from his home town, Rouen.

“It’s a track really not famous in Formula 1,” he jokes while gradually working his way through a bowl of pineapple chunks in Toro Rosso’s hospitality unit.

The path from karting to F1 has had ups and downs

“I went to the baby karts when I was six and I could not touch the pedals so we had to put foam everywhere! I could drive the kart and I did three laps just to have the first feeling and when I stopped I had a big smile on my face. I knew already I wanted to try it, and that’s what I wanted to do, and then after that I was like ‘yeah okay that’s what I need to do’, and I fell in love with it.”

Gasly is the youngest of five boys – he has two maternal step-brothers and two paternal step-brothers – but he was the only one who started young enough to pursue racing as a career.

“Out of the four, three raced in karting,” he explains of his brothers. “So it was really in our family, but they started pretty late; two of them started when they were like 18 or 19, and one started at 17, but it was too late in motorsports. I think they were decent, they went to national level but never to international. They are good when I play with them on a simulator… they are still a couple of seconds off but you can see they are good – actually they wanted to do it [play racing games] at the beginning but they don’t want [to play] any more as I beat them all the time!”

Upon realising that racing was to become his life, Gasly began competing seriously, gradually rising through the ranks, picking up trophies and accolades both on a national level and further afield. However, as with any aspiring racer, life at a track had to be balanced with education, and some of his teachers were not appreciative of his long-term ambition.

Gasly had to juggle school with racing

“At the beginning they didn’t believe me,” Gasly explains when karting was given as his reason for absence. “Also because you go karting in Italy and there’s sunshine outside, of course when you come back you are a bit more tanned than when you left! So the Profs were like ‘yeah you went for holidays’ and then on purpose they used to give me the exam of the lessons I had missed just because they didn’t believe me. It was a bit tough but I at least managed to get some decent marks.” As he entered his teenage years he realised that remaining where he was “wasn’t possible anymore; I had to go in a private school. The [French] Federation made a partnership with this private school in Le Mans, so I left home at 13 and went to live there from 13 to 18.”

When he ultimately reached Formula 1, nine years later, he received a handful of messages from some of those teachers; “there were some that supported me and some others were a bit more stupid, but some of them sent me messages saying ‘ah I saw that you managed to get there – so happy for you’; I guess at that time people don’t realise it’s [F1] a target and it’s what you want to achieve and when they see you it’s like ‘fuck he managed to do it!’”

Gasly’s time in karting meant he battled the likes of Max Verstappen, Esteban Ocon and Charles Leclerc, with whom he was team-mates at SodiKart in 2010. “We were all growing together and now to be all together in Formula 1 is quite funny as I still remember these times like it was yesterday, it’s quite nice.” Gasly’s transition from karting to single-seaters came in 2011, competing in French F4, before a 2012 Formula Renault 2.0 campaign with R-ace GP yielded a handful of podiums. The next season was to be crucial.

Podiums, the runner-up spot, but no wins in 2014

“Basically 2013 was either win or stop,” Gasly says starkly. “I was lucky to find a Swiss guy who supported me and paid my season with Tech 1, and Tech 1 actually had been really nice and gave us a good deal. It was either ‘I will win the championship and get the prize money’, which I think was €500,000 to go into [Formula Renault] 3.5, or if I will have finished second it would have been zero [prize money], and I would have had to stop because this guy could not pay for crazy money, and for me actually on the financial side it was crucial. There was a lot of pressure that year but in the end it turned out really well, we were really competitive with Tech 1 and we managed to get the title.”

The title was also vital in securing a place on Red Bull’s prestigious junior scheme.  “I went to Abu Dhabi and I saw Helmut [Marko] who told me first that I didn’t do enough fastest laps! But no, he was happy that I won the championship and then after that I signed with them, so for me it was a big turning point in my career as I had much better support.”

The next three years turned out to be perplexing for any junior formula aficionado to fully understand. For the first two-and-a-half of them, in Formula Renault 3.5 and GP2, Red Bull’s latest prospect was a regular front-runner, taking 15 podiums, five pole positions, and the runner-up spot in Renault’s series to fellow junior driver Carlos Sainz Jr. Yet a win remained elusive. Several opportunities to get the monkey off his back slipped through his fingers. It led to questions over his ability, and his long-term prospects.

GP2 debut came at Monza in 2014

“At that time I was 18, I arrived in 3.5 with much older guys who had a lot more experience.

“I think when you look back at it, I didn’t get the win, [but in] 2014 I had six second positions, all the time we missed by like five seconds… I could have got the win; it was just lacking little things, but not massively… DAMS was really strong with Carlos that year, so it was quite tough.

“Then I went to GP2, which with the Pirelli tyres was really tough. I was the second-best qualifier that year, so on one lap I could be fast. But with the tyre degradation… I’ve always been aggressive with the tyres, so I struggled quite a lot with that and DAMS [did as well], as Alex [Lynn], who was really good on tyre management struggled quite a bit as well.

“Of course it was not easy; in the end the overall result was really positive but everyone was talking about ‘ah he’s missing that win, he’s missing that win’, which for me as a racer what you want is to fight for pole positions and wins, I just kept pushing and knew that for me it was good experience: 2014 was a rookie season, with new things to learn, 2015 was a rookie season again, then in 2016 you can really feel the extra experience,  which is beneficial just to put everything together.”

Winless streak finally came to an end mid-2016

Gasly joined Prema – new to GP2 but with supreme F3 results – for 2016 and finally ended his winless streak mid-season at Silverstone, just days after he was involved in a serious road traffic accident that injured his mother. Further wins followed, but there was a disqualification at Hockenheim, while a Safety Car deployment error that robbed him of victory at Monza (and handed it to team-mate and title rival Antonio Giovinazzi) left him seething. He bounced back to win the crown, but was overlooked for 2017 by Red Bull as it kept Daniil Kvyat at Toro Rosso.

“Honestly I could write a book about my GP2 season! There had been so many things happening. It’s quite funny as when I used to talk with my trainer they used to say that there are too many things happening in my life on the personal side and it’s just a fucking rollercoaster emotionally!

“I just tried to stay focused on the target, that’s what we thought, the best we can do is give our best all the time and I really believed I can deliver, and if we kept pushing and did the right things and got the result, at some point it has to come.

“I believe in justice and all this shit, so I knew at some point there was something coming.

Gasly clinched the GP2 title, but F1 had to wait

“At the end of the season in GP2 it was really good [to win the title] but of course it was frustrating as when you win in GP2 the next step is Formula 1, so you don’t want to wait there, like in football if you win the second league you go into the first league. It was frustrating and quite tough as we know in Formula 1 the results are not the only factor that can give you the seat, with money I could have got one in 2017, but I didn’t have any, and I had to wait for 10 months, whatever, until the Malaysian GP. But that’s what they [Red Bull] told me – you’re in the right place, but just the wrong time. I just kept pushing and I knew that ‘ah okay at some point it will come’.”

Gasly’s initial foray into Formula 1 – having come oh-so-close to the Super Formula title during his season in Japan – was blighted by Renault’s end-of-year reliability dramas, but for 2018, with Honda, the outlook is brighter, with optimism flowing through Gasly and the Toro Rosso team.

“I’m super excited,” he beams. “I think it’s a great challenge with Honda and Toro Rosso as we are not a customer anymore.

“We really feel that Honda is pushing massively to improve, and pushing the team on their side to give the best car possible, to have the best package we can for the year.

“You can feel there is a great atmosphere compared to when I got in the car last year and we had all these engine issues.

“There is a lot of positive energy ad everyone is working towards the same goal.

“I think it’s going to be tight with all the midfield teams but I’m super excited for my first Formula 1 season and I’m ready to give everything.”


Read more

Tyre selections for Australian Grand Prix revealed

2018-03-13 11:45:52

Formula 1 teams have loaded up on Pirelli’s Ultrasoft tyres for the season-opening event of the year in Australia next weekend.

Pirelli has expanded its dry-weather tyre range from five to seven compounds, with the introduction of a Hypersoft and back-up Superhard option for 2018.

The existing compounds have also been moved a step softer compared to their 2017 counterparts, amid a proliferation of one-stop races.

For Australia, Pirelli has nominated the Ultrasoft, Supersoft and Soft tyres, with teams allowed choice of 10 of their 13 allocated sets, as per the 2017 regulations.

Teams have selected either seven, eight or nine sets of the Ultrasoft compound in order to cope with the demands of Melbourne’s Albert Park circuit.

Mercedes has been among the most aggressive, choosing nine Ultrasofts, while Red Bull has gone with eight, and Red Bull seven.

Most teams will have two or three sets of the Supersofts available, with Renault’s duo and Haas’ Romain Grosjean the anomalies, having selected four.

As for the Soft tyres, reigning World Champion Lewis Hamilton – along with Grosjean and Williams debutant Sergey Sirotkin – will have just one set available, which is the batch allocated by Pirelli.

The remaining drivers have two sets of Softs, aside from the conservative Ferrari pair and Sauber’s Charles Leclerc, who will have three sets of the yellow-banded compound.


Read more

Sauber sees Force India as inspiration for long-term F1 revival

2018-03-13 10:32:06

Sauber and Force India may have been separated by six spots in the Constructors’ Championship across the past two years, but Frederic Vasseur says the latter can act as inspiration to the Swiss team.

Sauber finished a best of fourth in the standings in 2001, and challenged for podiums as recently as 2012, but slumped rearwards in recent years, stymied by financial issues and chassis/engine woes.

Sauber regressed to its worst ever classification of 10th in 2014, a position it repeated in both 2016 and 2017, scoring just seven points across the past two seasons.

However, Sauber has grown since Longbow Finance’s takeover mid-2016, and Vasseur, who joined last summer, has targeted a return to the midfield pack through 2018, pointing to Force India’s growth as a source of hope.

Force India entered Formula 1 in 2008, providing stability to the Silverstone-based operation, which had undergone strife through the latter years of Jordan, and its transition into Midland and Spyker.

Having placed 10th – and last – in 2008, it emerged as a regular points scorer in 2010, flicking between sixth and seventh in the standings, before improving to fifth in 2015 and fourth in 2016, a position it repeated last year.

“For sure Alfa Romeo can't expect to be in this kind of situation,” Vasseur said of Sauber’s new primary partner.

“The target for us is to come back into the pace. We are far away. We were very far away last year. I think the first step for us would be to catch up the field.

“Step by step we have to come back to catch the field. We will be more and more attractive for the engineers, for the drivers, for everybody.

“We have to be realistic. I know perfectly that it will take time to deliver and to improve.

“I don't want to say that we don't have to deliver next week. We have to be better next week than today. We have to be better in Bahrain than in Melbourne. It could be the only philosophy of everyone in the team.

“I know perfectly that it's going to be a mid-term project to be in the midfield. Look also at Force India for a good reference and a good project.

“They were more than at the back. They built up something very strong. They were consistently fifth, fourth in the last two or three seasons. But it took 10 years for them to be at this pace.”

Vasseur also revealed that Sauber’s partnership with Alfa Romeo had led to greater interest in the motorsport world, and reckons it has acted as a boost at Hinwil.

“It's an iconic brand and we are much more attractive to other sponsors, much more attractive for the guys when you have to work with [a top brand],” he said.

“It was a bit tough in the past. When we did the announcement, we received much more CVs than over the last 12 months!

“We have the feeling that the project is motivating around the team.

“For sure it's a good step forward. It's not just a matter to work with, but you have to work with the good ones.”

Read more

Joe Blogs F1: Disraeli and the F1 testing...

2018-03-13 02:22:20

Benjamin Disraeli was an interesting character. One of the great statesmen of the Victorian Age, he was not only Prime Minister (on a couple of occasions), he was also a very successful novelist... click here if you're not automatically redirected to Joe Blogs F1.

Read more

Video: The hope of a nation - Robert Kubica on Polish fans

2018-03-13 01:39:17

Robert Kubica makes a welcome return to Formula 1 in 2018, after signing for Williams Martini Racing as the team's reserve and development driver. In an exclusive interview with Mobil 1 The Grid, he highlights the importance of his fans during his long road to recovery, particularly those back home in Poland, and talks about the nation's chances in this summer's football World Cup.

Read more